Note that this was an early draft, the grammar is all over the place and no professional editors have had a look at it. I've only been back over it once today to correct the fucking awful spelling. The final book (Currently 165 pages long sans art) will be more fun, grammatically correct and have lovely illustrations by Rebecca. It will come out this year. Maybe next. Possibly the one after that. Who knows?
Anyway, here's the thing.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: PS3, 360, PC
What’s it about?: Murder most horrid.
Back when I was a tiny bairn we used to live in a smallish house with these brilliant white windowsills out front. For a few days every summer they used to swarm with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of these tiny, bright red bugs. We called them bloodsuckers, a quick google tells me they’re called clover mites. I prefer my name.
The thing about bloodsuckers is that they’re easy to smush and after being smushed, they leave a tiny red blood smear behind them. For a kid this was pure imagination fuel. When the bloodsuckers were out, so was I. Tanks Vs Bloodsuckers, Army Men vs Bloodsuckers, Aliens Vs Bloodsuckers, those windowsills saw a great many battles I can tell you. After each skirmish it looked like someone with a nosebleed had had a sneezing fit nearby.
A few years ago I went back to that house and saw the bloodsuckers again. I smushed one, as is the tradition, and instead of feeling joy at the tiny blob of viscera left over, I felt an unending wave of guilt. I had killed an innocent creature for no reason. The fun was gone. I was a man now.
Grand Theft Auto IV is the video game equivalent of that feeling.
Nestled between getting a score bonus for running over an entire precision of Hare Krishnas in the first Grand Theft Auto, and crashing a passenger jet into a UFO in the fifth, lies GTA IV, a realistic game about not having fun.
I can’t overstate this enough, GTA IV is a game about not having fun. It came out during that awkward PS3 realism phase where everything was brown, dull and played like a rainy caravan holiday. Liberty city* was beautifully detailed, but in a depressing way, like a baroque cake made for a funeral. Even during a sunset, a time when games really get to show off the goods, the visuals had all the aesthetic appeal of the chairs in a care home.
Fun side quests such as piloting RC vehicles, going on a rampage or taking part in a destruction derby were swapped out for going on dates that were about as fun as commuting, the now infamous bowling and... I genuinely can’t think of anything else. I used to spend all my time crashing into this swing in a park that glitched out and sent you flying across the map. You couldn’t even fly planes. Nobody could, not even the AI. The planes at the airport just drove in slow loops round the runways. It felt like everyone was trapped in an eternal Monday morning.
Our lead character in this city based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire was Niko Bellic. A veteran whose American dream was to come to Liberty City and kill the man who betrayed his military unit. He’s a cheery fellow who in cutscenes will say things like this...
“After you walk into a village and you see 50 children, all sitting neatly in a row, against a church wall, each with their throats cut and their hands chopped off, you realize that the creature that could do this doesn't have a soul.”
… and then will gun down hundreds of innocent police just so he could rob a bank, throw grenades into a hospital for giggles and not even slightly hesitate to mow down anything weaker than the car he’s currently in. The story makes him out to be a damaged war vet but the gameplay forces him to be a psychopath. A boring psychopath at that.
If Rockstar had held it’s trigger finger on the missions and kept murder to a minimum then GTA IV could have been a masterpiece. ** Instead GTA IV is a game that doesn’t fully commit. It tries to balance bleakness and silly old mass murder but lands in a middle ground where the bleakness looks silly and the mass murder is bleak. Attaching guilt to murder in a game about murdering forces me to remember that game next to the corpse of that final, smushed bloodsucker. Also that one time I wanted to see if putting my sister’s hamster in a microwave would dry it.
Thinking about it, maybe I should have started this chapter with that story...
* GTA’s answer to New York, if the question was “how can we possibly make a city more depressing than New York?”
** I’m very aware it’s one of the highest rated games of all time but that was mostly down to Liberty City’s detail which, for the time, was above and beyond anything seen before. Also, almost every site that praised it has now disowned it in the inevitable “Most overrated games of all time” list. Still, Metal Gear Solid 4 needs some company.